Climate change signals the end of Australian shiraz as we know it

Sun Jul 13, 2014 10:38pm EDT
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By Jane Wardell

HOBART Tasmania (Reuters) - Young Australian vintner Nick Glaetzer's winemaking-steeped family thought he was crazy when he abandoned the Barossa Valley - the hot, dry region that is home to the country's world-famous big, brassy shiraz.

Trampling over the family's century-old grape-growing roots on the Australian mainland, Glaetzer headed south to the island state of Tasmania to strike out on his own and prove to the naysayers there was a successful future in cooler climate wines.

Just five years later, Glaetzer made history when his Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Pere Shiraz won a major national award - the first time judges had handed the coveted trophy to a shiraz made south of the Bass Strait separating Tasmania from the Australian mainland.

Glaetzer's gamble embodies a major shift in Australia's wine-growing industry as it responds to climate change.

A study by the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that up to 73 percent of Australian land currently used for viticulture could become unsuitable by 2050.

As the country's traditional wine growing regions including the Barossa, the Hunter Valley and Margaret River grow ever hotter and drier, winemakers are rushing to the tiny island state of Tasmania. Average summer temperatures there are currently about 38 percent cooler than in the Barossa.

Temperatures in Australia's main wine regions are projected to increase by between 0.3 and 1.7 degrees celsius by 2030, according to the CSIRO, Australia's national science agency.

The hotter temperatures would reduce grape quality by 12 to 57 percent, the agency's modeling shows. But in cooler Tasmania, warmer weather could be a benefit because current temperatures can get too chilly for some grape varieties.   Continued...

Rain droplets hang from a wire attached to a vine at the Cambridge vineyard, a part of the Frogmore Creek winery located on the outskirts of Hobart in Tasmania June 3, 2014.   REUTERS/David Gray